Hindle Wakes, Bolton Octagon, 19th February-21st March 2015

‘Nowt so queer as folk’ might sum up Hindle Wakes; or, at least, ‘nowt so queer as womenfolk’. It’s 1912 and the disenfranchised fairer sex is becoming more demanding, much to the woe of their male counterparts, and to some of the older ladies in Northern England. Suffragettes are fighting for the right to vote, and women are becoming headstrong in their ideas about relationships and being financially independent – or at least young weaver Fanny Hawthorn is.

Fanny (played by Natasha Davidson) cracks on that she’s spent the bank holiday Wakes – trips to the seaside from milltowns such as Bolton, fictionalised as Hindle – in Blackpool, with her friend Mary, when actually she was seduced in the Tower Ballroom and taken by motorcar to Llandudno for a dirty weekend by mill owner’s son Alan Jeffcote. Her parents have got wind that something is amiss, and bully her into a confession.

What ensues is a battle between old and new values, and class – or brass, as Daisy Bank’s head, Nat Jeffcote, likes to harp on about. He agrees with his long-term pal Chris Hawthorn that Alan should make things right by marrying Fanny; his wife, a former mill-worker herself, suspects Fanny to be a gold-digger. Complications arise when it turns out that Alan already has a fiancée, Beatrice Farrar, the daughter of the owner of the second biggest mill in town – a match made in heaven (apt, given her religious slant).

Though it deals with serious issues, the play, written in 1910 by Manchester playwright Stanley Houghton and brought back to life by Octagon Artistic Director David Thacker, is actually full of humour, with some real moments of warmth and understanding between characters. Fanny and Alan’s chat in his parents’ house stands out, and particularly strong acting-wise are the Jeffcote couple, played by James Quinn and Barbara Drennan (her character, significantly, has no first name; just Mrs Jeffcote or Mother).

The first scene, in the Hawthorn’s modest house, contrasts nicely to the set change to the posher place at Bank Top, and both hark back to a recentish Library production of Hard Times in an Ancoats mill. There’s a lot of whisky taken and a lot of ‘oop North’ dialect, and I wasn’t convinced by the costumes, but if you can get past those, it’s definitely worth a view.

Sarah-Clare Conlon

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